When I return form a trip, I typically bring 3000 - 5000 shots per week. For showing them to friends and family, that is obviously too much, so I need to reduce the count down to something like 100 - 150.

My question is not about how to select the best shots in my mind, but on useful and efficient mechanics of doing it [So it is not a duplicate of How do you select the 10 best images from a set of 300? and others like that].

What I tried:

  • In Windows, you can just double-click one and use cursor-right and -left to browse through them, and have the other hand on <DEL> (working in a copy, of course). The disadvantage is that if you go fast, you hit <DEL> ever so often accidentally, and undoing is tedious
  • In LightRoom, I can tag them with something, and later select only tagged ones. Disadvantages are the slowness/lag of display while you browse, and the need to re-export the selection at the end again.
  • on the iPad, it is tedious to delete not-selected pictures, as it takes three taps

I'm looking for ideas on other, hopefully better, mechanics. I will have to go a bit back and forth, as there often similar shots from the same subject, with slightly different composition and/or focus. I'd also need a way to do an immediate undo.

How do you do it?


The process you are describing is commonly referred to as culling images.

Any modern photo editing suite will have features to help you accomplish this far more efficiently than a standard file explorer.

What works the fastest for me is Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits, Inc. It is extremely fast at viewing full size RAW files without any need to preprocess images. The process is simple, I simply rate the images using the keypad 1-5 buttons. You also could set color flags if that works better for you.

The most popular professional solution would be Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. The process is similar to Photo Mechanic, you just will need to first preprocess or load previews that can take considerable time. Even once the previews are loaded, I and many others find LR to be significantly slower at culling as compared to Photo Mechanic. Again, in LR you can rate or color flag images to cull them to the best images.

In the end, what you use to cull is a personal preference and I would recommend trials of the available software before you set in stone any workflow. Any of the options are going to far exceed the abilities of a file explorer for photo specific use.

  • Does Photo Mechanic work with the embedded previews? Or how does it avoid preprocessing the raw files? – null Apr 9 '16 at 20:46
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    @null - It can use embedded JPEG previews or the RAW files directly(per a preferences setting). How it works exactly I do not know. I know it's an indispensable tool for me vs using LR for culling. – dpollitt Apr 9 '16 at 20:55

I use Lightroom so I answer for that.

In LightRoom, I can tag them with something, and later select only tagged ones.

Instead of tagging arbitrary photos, try the survey view. With the filmstrip as the only other module visible, you can quickly select a group of images to compare them. Pick your winner and go on to the next selection.

You can enhance this further my filtering the filmstrip. If you only show picked and unmarked images, you will not see those that you reject. This way you can reject images that you do not like and they will disappear from the film strip. this is great for things like closed eyes, missed focus, etc...

Disadvantages are the slowness/lag of display while you browse, and the need to re-export the selection at the end again.

This is likely a problem of how you import your photos. Remember that LR actually renders the images, which takes time. When you only import them, the import is (relatively) fast, but the images are not rendered. The rendering only happens when you select an image. This is what you experience as slowness/lag.

To fix that, make sure you select the option in the import settings to render the 1:1 previews. The import process now takes much longer, but it's quicker to work with the images.

Just let the import take its time and do something else in the meantime.

  • Thanks, two things I did not know yet about LR - survey view and 1:1 Previews (I used always Smart Previews because it sounded like the better solution). A quick try showed me that this works well. – Aganju Apr 9 '16 at 21:20
  • @Aganju: Smart previews can be useful too. Take a look at this question about them – null Apr 9 '16 at 21:38
  • 1:1 previews certainly take their sweet time - 24 h and only 62 % done (80000 pictures, 32 GB mem on 8 cores, all on SSD). I know, it's a one-time thing. But a small test sample showed it's just what I need, so I'll wait it out. – Aganju Apr 10 '16 at 17:59
  • @Aganju: 80k images is a lot. Some people say it helps to split the catalog up (but I think that's only true for older versions of LR) – null Apr 10 '16 at 18:16

XnViewMP is a freeware advanced viewer which will store all metadata in sidecar XMP files (supported by other programs like Bridge and Lightroom) and has colour labels and ratings and hotkeys.

If you need to transfer the "selection" you will need to select your source folders and "update files from catalog" to store metadata permanently in .xmp files.

It won't show you the Lightroom edits obviously and will render only a JPEG previews from RAW files though.


Divide and conquer.

You're obviously shooting a lot of shots of a given subject.

Let's break things down a bit.

    5 zillion pix.


    Day 1
    Day 2

Now here's a new concept: For each day, we will have a number of subjects

    Day 1
        Cathedral at Cologne

A step further, a given subject with have one or more shoots. A shoot is a bunch of related shots taken in hopes of getting a zinger. A shoot will usually mean that you don't change lenses, you don't pick up your jacket. Likely a shoot from first to last is under 2 minutes and will have 5 to 30 shots.

    Day 1
        Cathedral at Cologne
            St. Stephan's Tomb

Different software will have different techniques.

It was a 10 day trip. You want a 100 pic show, so you need to average 10 pix a day.

Now: For each shoot: Pick ONE image of what you have and give it 1 star. The rest are unrated.

Set your viewer to 1 or more stars. This means that for the 13 pictures of St. stephan's tomb that didn't get a star they vanish.

How many subjects today? 4? Ok. 10/4 = 2.5. Double that. 5.

For each subject pick 3-5 of the shoots bests and give them 1 more star each. This gives you a few too many. Suck it up.

Repeat for each day.

So right now you have about 20 shots per day

Do you need all the subjects? Maybe not. Eliminate.

Did some event stick out? Go back and pick out a few more from that set.

But at this point you are picking 100 pix out of 200. Some of this depends on how you organize your narrative. If you are giving a "Religious Archtecture of Europe" you concentrate on churches and monasteries. If it's Fortifications of Europe, it's more castles and Siegfried line.

In passing: A good slide show has 7-9 shots a minute. You don't say anything for 3 seconds. They won't hear you anyway.


The number of images you are shooting appears to be excessive. I worked as a self-employed professional photographer and would not shoot that number of images in a month. I had one job which required me to shoot 33,000 images in 6 weeks for a new website but in general terms, you need to apply some sort of discrimination filter to your work. If you are a professional, then you need to use professional tools for viewing your images without processing them. You also need to find a filing routine which permits you to process only the images you wish to keep. If you are not creating images for a living, you could usefully examine why you keep the images you do.

Non-professionals can still make use of professional tools, in order to reduce the burden of trying to file and process a large number of images. I use DxO as my initial RAW file viewer, filing system and image processing software. Within it, I can rapidly reject poor images and assign ratings to images I wish to keep. This is where the term 'workflow' is applied.

It helps to have a method that is applied to every image, before any processing is carried out. Only where an image requires complex layering techniques, to enable adequate processing, will it be round-tripped to Photoshop. In all other cases it remains within DxO to have noise removal, cropping, exposure, colour grading and highlight recovery techniques, blemishes fixed and image frame adjustments. Finally, the metadata is adjusted to make sense to my own filing system.

If you must capture this vast number of images, you could usefully look at ways to reduce the burden of sifting through them and applying corrections. Photoshop permits you to create complex actions which can run as unattended macro instructions. You could instruct it to turn every 16bit .tif images into an 8bit .jpg image, for example. It would do that without your intervention. Start a serious search of the literature related to image processing workflow. My workflow has developed with time and computer power. Originally, I did everything by hand with film and chemicals so what I do is probably unlikely to suit you.

You may find some local course or tutorial that would assist you to deal with a high throughput of images. Ideally, your images could be shot in RAW and .jpg so that you had a digital negative and an easily processed image. In your position, I would aim to shoot fewer images and try to get the image in the camera to require minimal processing. In other words treat every shot as if it were a piece of film which cannot be adjusted after capture. Photoshop is an amazing piece of software which I have used since version 2 but I try not to capture an image with the thought that I can fix an issue in Photoshop.

Hope this helps.


I only post the first step of a method.

Shoot less. You need to be more secure on what are you photographing and why are you photographing it.

I get it, sometimes you take two exact frames because you feel the focus was wrong, or you corrected a frame.

But are you taking photos, just because you were there? or are you making a bracketing just couse you are insecure about lighting?

Try not to shoot 500-1000 photos a day. Try to shoot 10 memorable photos a week. Not by "accident" among thousand photos. Take, 100-200 photos a day perhaphs?

Really... your family and friends will thank you so much just showing them 10 photos, not 100.

to select a set of pictures from large amounts

Why is this the first step? Becouse the "pictures", the images are out there, waiting for us. The first selection is on the photographers decision, "should I keep it on my camera or not".

After that, there aditional decisions "Should I keep it on my hard drive or my favorites or not."

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    I don't think this answers the question. What if he was shooting a sporting event that essentially necessitates shooting a high number of frames? – dpollitt Apr 9 '16 at 19:40
  • Yeap. I was adding the method I use. But I'll post it as a diferent answer. I'm starting with the premise he says. "Travel... Showing to family and friends". – Rafael Apr 9 '16 at 19:48
  • I edited a bit. And yes, partialy answers "Methods (mechanics) to select a set of pictures from large amounts". – Rafael Apr 9 '16 at 20:02
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    I think this is a useful answer. Another way to think of this is ... part of the culling process starts when you evaluate if you want to capture the image or ... how many frames do you want to capture of the same subject? In film days, we had to do this or we'd quickly run out of film. – Tim Campbell Aug 17 '20 at 14:19

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